Philippines, leftist rebels declare truces in disaster areas

DAVAO CITY, Philippines Mon Dec 10, 2012 2:21am EST

1 of 2. A Filipino small-scale miner carries his sand-sifting equipment used in gold mining on a river bed in the town of Mawab, Compostela Valley in southern Philippines December 9, 2012, five days after the year's strongest typhoon, Typhoon Bopha, first hit land.

Credit: Reuters/Erik De Castro

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DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Reuters) - The Philippine government and Maoist rebels have declared truces in two southern provinces devastated by a typhoon last week as the army concentrates on relief and many rebels recover from the disaster, a commander said on Monday.

Typhoon Bopha killed 647 people and caused crop damage worth 8.5 billion pesos ($210 million).

The most intense storm to hit the Philippines this year wiped out about 90 percent of three coastal towns in Davao Oriental province and buried an entire town in neighboring Compostela Valley province under mud.

Communist New People's Army (NPA) guerrillas are active in those two worst-hit provinces, which are on Mindano island.

Major-General Ariel Bernardo, an army division commander, said he had ordered troops to shift from combat to relief operations, and to help deliver food and rebuild communities.

"We heard the rebels had declared an informal ceasefire, we welcome that because we can all concentrate on helping typhoon victims," Bernardo told Reuters.

"I believe many of these rebels were also affected and could be in the shelter areas."

The death toll stood at 647 on Monday, with nearly 800 missing and more than 1,000 injured, the national disaster agency said in its latest tally. About 100 fishermen were feared lost between Mindanao and Indonesia's Sulawesi island.

The Philippines' social welfare department and the United Nations are appealing for help as humanitarian agencies bring in food, water, medicines and shelter material for more than 5.4 million people affected by the storm.

NPA guerrillas have been battling government forces in various parts of the Philippines for decades.

The government signed a peace deal with the country's biggest Muslim rebel group, which also operates in the south, in October.

Bernardo said troops had cleared roads of debris and mud and restored links to cut-off communities to allow in food and other supplies.

Television pictures showed entire coastal areas in Davao Oriental leveled to the ground.

About 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year, often causing death and destruction. Almost exactly a year ago, typhoon Washi killed nearly 1,500 people in Mindanao, but most storms make landfall further north.

($1 = 40.9450 Philippine pesos)

(Additional Reporting By Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Editing by Robert Birsel)